'I am an angry mum'

'We all have our triggers, but our anger isn’t always congruent with the actual situation.'

'We all have our triggers, but our anger isn’t always congruent with the actual situation.' Photo: Getty Images

It’s sunny. My husband is at work. The girls and I tootle around at home.

The morning is getting away from us. My three-year-old is chatty and over-excited, and my baby is tired. The baby has missed her morning nap, and is fighting sleep. At last, after a fit of crying, she collapses against my breast in the sling. I read to my older daughter on the day bed. She interrupts to tell her own elaborate story. Using expressive hands, she inadvertently wakes the baby, poking her in the back.

"Argh!" I yell out. "Bloody hell! You woke her! I am so unbelievably mad at you!" I am thundering.

"Stop yelling," she pleads. There are tears in her eyes. I break down. Still in the sling, the baby is of course crying. I hold my older daughter, and muffle sorries into her hair. I am sorry. I am so, so sorry.

My angry outburst weighs on my heart for the rest the day. I feel so guilty about yelling at my daughter, who really wasn’t doing anything wrong. All I want to do is go to bed, or drink wine, or anything to dilute the pain.

These angry episodes have been happening lately. The triggers are minor - a woken baby, a dropped teacup or a misconstrued comment from my husband. I roar at my child, or my husband, or at my reflection in the mirror. Then I feel awful.

Aware Parenting Instructor, Marion Badenoch Rose from Parenting With Presence, says angry responses are common when the mother’s needs are not being fully met, and her resources are taxed. I think of those punitive 5.30am starts, and broken nights. Maybe my sleep bank is in deficit.

We all have our triggers, but our anger isn’t always congruent with the actual situation. Often, it’s coming from a deeper place. "[Children] need a lot from us as parents – things that we weren't often given when we were children, and things which generally aren't taught to us," says Badenoch Rose. "When they ask these things of us, and our own emotional resources are low, our own unmet needs can lead to anger."

"When we express anger to our children, the bond between us is temporarily cut off," says Badenoch Rose. "[The child] feels scared, which can show up either in them withdrawing, going quiet or getting still, which is kind of a ‘freeze’ mechanism to protect themselves.  Alternatively, they demonstrate increasingly challenging behaviour including aggression. These behaviours stem from a feeling of disconnection and fear."

It is important for us, as parents, to identify our triggers, and learn strategies which help us manage our anger and frustration towards our children.

Badenoch Rose says that to circumvent angry episodes towards our children, get plenty of emotional support so our needs are met. Venting to compassionate friends is more constructive than off-loading on our children when we are triggered.

Envision emergency strategies you can use when you are home with your children, and your resources are low. Badenoch Rose suggests lying on the floor for a few minutes, until the anger passes. Alternatively, separate yourself from the situation, scream into a pillow, or phone a supportive friend for emergency empathy.

Amy, mother of two boys, says that she tries to remember that this is her kids’ childhood, and they only have one. For her, this is an instant calmer.

The important thing is to reconnect after an emotional incident. Apologise to your child, and explain that it wasn’t their fault you got angry. Reassure your child that even when you are angry, you still love them.

"Most of all," says Badenoch Rose, "have compassion for yourself for those times when you have been angry. The more we listen to ourselves, are compassionate with ourselves, get our feelings heard and our needs met, the more easily we can parent peacefully and with enjoyment."

28 comments

  • I have an angry wife and I nearly left her because of her explosive outbursts which shocked me and terrified the childred.

    When I tried to tell her how unacceptable such behaviour was, she would tell me she was "venting" and looking after children was "so hard". Her father is prone to explosive outbursts and she hated it but I started to see it replicated in her. I pointed this out to her and I also responded that my work is hard but I don't slap her around at the end of the day to unwind.

    I learnt to control my anger because I saw my father abuse my mother physically and emotionally. Angry women need to learn anger control as men have to - uncontrolled anger is simply bullying and it doesn't matter which gender is the perpetrator. And don't tell me looking after children is hard or a woman's needs are unmet. Would a woman accept the same sort of excuses from a man for domestic violence? There are no excuses for the inexcusable.

    Commenter
    Andrew
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    October 14, 2013, 8:06AM
    • Well said Andrew.

      There is no excuse.

      You are clearly a measured person and control your anger because it is the right thing to do and not because you saw your father "abuse" your mother "physically and emotionally".

      Children provide no more provocation than many men who abuse their partners claim.

      It is simply unacceptable and making excuses like this is pathetic.

      Commenter
      Lance Boyle
      Date and time
      October 14, 2013, 4:45PM
    • I wish you all the best. If your wife is reasonable and can be reasoned, there is hope.

      Commenter
      Not_A_Normal_Man
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      October 14, 2013, 5:12PM
    • You're right, Andrew.
      I am an angry partner. I have exploded a few times and it's not his fault.
      My dad is the same and I had a terrible childhood as a result.

      I started seeing a pschologist this weekend. I'm hoping to learn the techniques to turn my anger around. Even simple things like having a 'third space' to unwind before exploding.

      Good luck with everything. I hope it works out.

      Commenter
      goingthroughit
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      October 14, 2013, 6:25PM
    • Have you tried cleaning the toilet and taking the kids down to the park to give her a break, instead of bragging to strangers online about how you know more about child rearing than your wife? If she is stressed and struggling she needs your support more than ever.

      Is your anger really under control? Or has it just morphed into passive aggression?

      Your job may be hard but remember - it's paid, it's structured and it's at arms length. You get to leave work at the end of the day. Full time parenting offers none of these things.

      Less talk, matey. More action.

      Commenter
      kitty
      Date and time
      October 14, 2013, 7:46PM
  • i hate to be a bloke hijacking a mum's story on a women's page but... i hear you.

    Commenter
    brad
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    October 14, 2013, 9:30AM
    • This may be an unpopular comment but was the reaction described in this article really that bad? I wouldn't really equate this to being an "angry mum". It sounds more like you had a bit of a moment but that you recovered from it well and did the right thing.

      Parents are human too and make mistakes, have emotions. There's no point in trying to hide this or pretend that everything is perfect.

      If you're hitting or turning to the drink to avoid angry feelings, I would argue that's much more serious than having a moment of anger and then apologising for it.

      We all will lose our temper at times and its more about how you recover from that than the actual moment of anger that is important in my opinion. In my opinion its much more healthy to own and experience your emotions rather than trying to bottle them in.

      Lying on the floor and waiting for the anger to pass? That seems like a crazy suggestion.

      Commenter
      Adrian
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      October 14, 2013, 9:48AM
      • I think the point being made here is that she does it a lot and probably too much.

        The most important difference to highlight here is that she is not letting fly at her boss or her best friend she is letting out her rage at an unpredictable moment or moments to a little girl who has no power to protect herself against it and no understanding of what it is. There is a vast power difference between mother and child especially a small child. Therefore it is abuse, it is abuse because of the difference in power. Just as when a man punches a women in the face it is abuse because of the difference in physical and sometimes economic etc power.

        Of course there are mitigating circumstances just as there are in men who abuse because the rage is difficult to control. But just as we hold men responsible for their actions we must also hold women responsible for their actions particularly when we live in a society where there is support.

        Unpredictable outbursts of rage from a parent, in this case a mother, results in a life long fear, anxiety and sense of overwhelming guilt in children. It is not OK, it is domestic abuse and it is extremely common.

        Commenter
        valorie
        Date and time
        October 14, 2013, 12:14PM
      • I think the difference between discipline and dysfunctional and potentially abusive anger is that the former is a response to undesirable behaviour in the child which the child can therefore modify in order to avoid the disciplinary response.

        Whereas with the latter, unpredictable rage response which according to the author has nothing to do with the child and comes from somewhere deeper in the mother, then the child has no way of modifying their own behaviour in order to become better behaved etc and they then spend their lives trying to understand what they have done wrong which was probably nothing other than existing. They then start to feel like they shouldn't exist.

        Commenter
        valorie
        Date and time
        October 14, 2013, 1:05PM
      • I agree with Adrian. I don't think an occasional and brief 'outburst' in the circumstances described above is abusive as suggested by valerie, or even close to it (but thanks for clarifying with your second comment valerie as that made more sense to me). Sounds more like irritability due to lack of sleep and having to be 'available' 24/7 - such is life raising very young children!

        It's so heartbreaking when you see their little face at the time though, because really little kids can't really be 'naughty' (by which I mean defiant, or intentionally doing something they know they should not). So it's not really fair to yell at them... but I'd say most parents have been there at some stage. It is also a learning opportunity. Maybe not in the heat of the moment but the 'apology' would go along the lines of 'mummy's sorry for yelling at you but I really want you to be more careful around the baby when she's sleeping, otherwise we will miss out on our special time together...'.

        Also agree that lying on the floor until the feeling passes is one of the weirdest suggestions I have heard of! I like to have 'mummy's time out' (ie. isolate myself to my bedroom away from all distractions and interruptions) if I feel like it's all getting too much. My kids are almost teenagers but I still do this (perhaps even more often than when they were little?).

        Commenter
        msm
        Date and time
        October 14, 2013, 3:47PM

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